By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Senate leaders will introduce a bipartisan resolution of opposition to President Bush's new Iraq policy as early as today, taking the lead from House Democrats who are increasingly divided on how far to go to thwart additional troop deployments to Iraq.
The resolution -- crafted by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) and Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) -- will not come to a vote before Bush's State of the Union address on Tuesday. But by sending it to Biden's committee this week, Democratic leaders will give senators from both parties multiple opportunities to voice concerns about the president's policy.
In another high-profile move, Democratic leaders yesterday tapped Sen. James Webb (D-Va.), a Reagan administration Navy secretary who secured victory in November on an antiwar push, to deliver the party's nationally televised response to Bush's speech.
House leaders opted to allow the Senate to strike first, reasoning that a strong, bipartisan vote there would splinter Republican support in the House, Democratic leadership aides said. The Senate resolution will not only express opposition to the president's deployment of 21,500 additional troops to Iraq but also lay out policy alternatives that have bipartisan appeal, according to a senior Senate Democratic aide familiar with the negotiations.
House leaders are beset by division over efforts to choke off the deployment through Congress's power of the purse. Moreover, antiwar groups are growing uneasy about a nonbinding resolution of opposition.
Thomas Andrews, a former House Democrat who heads the Win Without War coalition, said any such resolution would allow Republicans to voice their opposition to the president's policy, giving them political cover when they later oppose binding legislative efforts to stifle that policy.
"The whole thing could let Republicans off the hook with a meaningless, toothless vote," said Andrews, who has been meeting with senior Democrats on war issues. "It's a pressure valve that could work against us."
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) promised yesterday that the House will move forward with its resolution, but he added that more legislation will follow.
"Iraq will not disappear with the vote on a resolution," he said. "Substantively, we're going to move ahead" through the appropriations process.
But it is not clear what that substantive legislation will be. The chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense, John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), and his allies on the House Armed Services Committee are continuing to push for a requirement that the administration may deploy troops only from military units that are certified as combat-ready. That requirement would seriously curtail future deployments.
Murtha's committee will begin closed-door hearings today with military officials on Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force readiness; equipment conditions; the state of the National Guard and reserves; and the readiness of military medical personnel.
"We will most likely move carefully within constitutional bounds to cordon the funding in the Iraq supplemental appropriations bill . . . so that our troops in the field will be supported and the personnel, as well as the equipment, exhausted by the Iraq war can be rested, retrained and refurbished," said Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.), a Murtha ally on the issue.
Democratic voters appear to be solidly behind that effort. In a poll released yesterday by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 61 percent of Americans said they oppose Bush's decision to increase U.S. troop strength in Iraq, while 62 percent of Democrats said Congress should withhold funding for the plan.
Antiwar activists yesterday presented Democratic House members an "appeal for redress," signed by more than 1,000 active-duty service members, reservists and National Guardsmen -- including more than a hundred officers -- urging that U.S. troops be withdrawn from Iraq.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is backing Murtha's insistence that Bush must meet benchmarks for troop preparedness and safety before funds for deployments are released, said Brendan Daly, the speaker's spokesman.
But some senior Democrats are skeptical that such a move would be politically wise, constitutionally permissible or legislatively possible. The Pew poll found that overall support for the withholding of funds was a tepid 43 percent. One senior Armed Services Committee member asked why Democrats would want to put their fingerprints on a war policy that is likely to prove fruitless long before legislation could have any impact.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey (D-Wis.) noted that many of the additional troops Bush wants to deploy will already be in Iraq by the time Congress completes work on an emergency war-spending bill. That bill will not even be sent to Capitol Hill until next month.
Moreover, setting aside the money for the president's "surge" from the funds to support the 132,000 troops that are already there may be impossible.
"If you've got a shirt that's 90 percent cotton and 10 percent polyester, it's pretty hard to separate the fibers," Obey said.